Consider: When you look at something, you focus on it. That one particular thing, and your consciousness blurs all else around it.
Cameras don’t work that way. Because they don’t, photojournalists can’t, either. They must see it all, and in context.
“Composition,” photographer Bob Ellis says, is the first thing he looks for in a photo. It’s not enough to see the one thing, a photojournalist must see the entire picture.
A person walking in a snow storm is dull. Put that person on front of a mural of a sunny beach scene and you see the image in a whole new context.
Ellis has seen the world that way for 30 years. In three decades at the Cortland Standard, he’s looked at Cortland County in a way few others could, and he’s shown us all of it.
What he’s seen can make you laugh. It can make you cry. It can make you think, and feel: anger, love, consternation.
Look into the eyes of the Vietnam veterans at a memorial. You can see the sorrow. Watch the kid in a football uniforms play the violin. Live through the experience of a naturalization ceremony shown in the face of an elderly new citizen.
“Imagine the stories those eyes have seen,” Ellis said.
Don’t ask Ellis how he does it. “It’s weird,” he said. “I’d be a lousy teacher.” He doesn’t see the f-stops and depths-of-field and exposures that more technical photojournalists see. He sees stories. He sees people.
And they see him. Years, even decades, after he’s published their photos, people stop Ellis on the street and remember it. The lens gives him an ability to connect with people in ways no other person can.
Some laugh about the photo, others reminisce. Those memories are a moment frozen in time, a moment that Ellis shared with his subject, and then shared with Cortland. They’re unforgettable.
In a few days, memories will be all we’ll have.
Bob Ellis is retiring from the Cortland Standard. after 30 years, 7 months and thousands of photos, Ellis is hanging up the lens, stashing away the camera and moving on to other things.
He’s shown us a Cortland we could never have seen otherwise, and in a way, showed us parts of himself, too.
The camera is a lens — a lens through which we can see the world. And a lens through which we can see the photographer. And Bob Ellis has shown us both.
This first group of Bob’s 12 favorite photos is numbered in descending order. Fifteen more of Bob’s favorite photos below are sorted randomly below.